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The Ambassador of Conflict

September 10, 2012

By Walter Campbell

From the Penn Law Journal Summer 2012 issue.

 

“I’m a conflict junkie,” confessed Stuart Jones L’86, now the American ambassador in Jordan. “I’m very interested in conflict situations.”

That is a good thing since Jones has been exposed to some of the world’s trouble spots during a long career in the diplomatic service. He’s been thrust into human rights struggles in El Salvador and Colombia, a dangerous civil war in the former Yugoslavia, a lethal situation in Somalia, two tours in Iraq, and an Egypt on the edge of revolution. All of these assignments have prepared him for his ambassadorship in Jordan, which has experienced unusual unrest amid the stirrings of the Arab Spring.

When the Arab Spring came to Jordan, the country of 7 million saw isolated, in some cases, large demonstrations. But Ambassador Jones said that King Abdullah II has long been a leader who listens to his people, so he immediately launched a national dialogue and encouraged reform. Thus Jordan has avoided the violence and upheaval that has affected Egypt and other countries in the region.

Ambassador Jones spoke in support as he touted the “shared goals and values” between Jordan and the United States. “The United States has a terrific partnership with Jordan,” he said. Much of what binds the two countries is their mutual interest in finding a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This past January, the king met with President Obama to discuss ways to move the peace process forward.

The attraction to diplomatic work is literally in Ambassador Jones’ blood. His grandfather served in the Foreign Service. Spurred by his example, Jones traveled through Latin America after graduating from Penn Law School, and realized he wanted to do more than just travel.

Indeed, he is no position to write travelogues. His time as a diplomat has been fraught with peril. Drawn to conflict, Jones has spent considerable time in countries riven by turmoil. In Iraq, for instance, a roadside bomb hit the car he was traveling in.

“Fortunately,” he said, “those were early days and the insurgents had not mastered armor piercing weapons.” Another time, Jones recalled, he was in Croatia with then-UN Ambassador to the United Nations, Madeleine Albright. The ambassador, who understood Serbo-Croatian, overheard some men nearby grumbling about the American delegation and suggested the team move a little faster back to their vans. In a matter of minutes a gang of young men started throwing rocks at the vehicles.

Jones said his law school training has been helpful, giving him an understanding of human rights issues and international law. Recently, he put that knowledge – and his experience – to use when he welcomed to the American embassy a group of Penn Law students participating in the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project. The students were in Jordan to advise Iraqi refugees and train Jordanian volunteers at the University of Jordan. Ambassador Jones briefed the students on problems facing refugees in Syria, where the ongoing crisis has caused The UN Refugee Agency and the American embassy to reduce its presence.

“It was wonderful to see this people-to-people contact aimed at a humanitarian outcome,” said Jones. “I was really touched. I was also delighted that some of the students expressed interest in joining the Foreign Service.”